Why college football will be led by Power Four or Three or Two

James Lang-USA TODAY Sports
James Lang-USA TODAY Sports /

The pace of change in college football has been rapid. Not only are there no signs the pace will abate, change might quicken. College football is one of the hottest properties in the entertainment business. Like everything else in the entertainment world, hot properties drive big dollars.

According to the Sports Business Journal, the next media rights deal for the Big Ten will bring the league and its teams $1B. The SEC already has an add-on deal with ESPN that kicks in on top of the current ESPN contract when the CBS contract runs out after the 2023 season.

The most recent media rights payouts show the SEC and Big Ten distribute far more money to their teams than the other three Power Fice conferences. The SEC payout to teams released three months ago averaged $54.6M per school.

According to Heartland College Sports, the Big Ten payout to teams is slightly less at $54.3M.

From various reports, the other Power Fives range from $17M to ACC teams to $20M for Big 12 teams to $21M for Pac 12 teams. The ACC has a new media rights deal and its payouts will go up, but not to the level of the SEC and the Big Ten. The Pac 12 and the Big 12 will not experience big boosts in rights deals. Though the Big 12 has added four teams, the future loss of Texas and Oklahoma is a major problem.

The research firm Navigate projected how the per team payouts will change for each conference as new contracts are negotiated. It will take a few years for new deals to evolve. Navigate did a projection from 2022 to 2029. The projected numbers for 2026 are listed below.

Future College Football Payouts

  • SEC in 2026 – $96.4M per school
  • Big Ten – $86.5M per school
  • Pac 12 – $51.7M
  • ACC – $48.6M
  • Big 12 – $47.5M

It is easy math to see why, if the SEC and the B1G want to continue expanding, Pac 12, ACC and Big 12 schools would be interested. The ACC has some media grants of rights protection through 2036. An exiting ACC team would be burdened by a massive buyout, but given the payouts available elsewhere, even a massive buyout might be an attractive deal.

How college football will evolve over the next decade is unpredictable. Even so, the old theme of following the money makes sense.

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Outside the SEC and the Big Ten, others realize the two conferences may become, or already are, the Power Two. Maybe the upper division of college football will be a Power Four or a Power Three, but it is less likely it will continue to be a Power Five.